By HEATHER ROBERTS
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Congressman Greg Walden surprised many in his own party, when he announced he would not run for re-election, after 22 years in office.
But, it didn’t take long for Republican candidates to line up, in a district held by the GOP for nearly four decades.
Eleven, including former Bend State Representative Knute Buehler, filed for the May Primary.
And, the front-runners took to the airwaves in what appears to be a fight for the “right.”
“We hear a lot about who is the most conservative; that’s an interesting question,” says former State Senator Cliff Bentz, “Though, those of us who have records, go back and look. So, if you go back and look at my record, I’m the most conservative; there’s no doubt of it. Just look at my 12 years in the Oregon Legislature.” Bentz, an Ontario Attorney, served in the state House and Senate, always in the minority party. “I left Salem, in part, because I was tired of that; and I wanted to go someplace Republicans have power.”
He resigned his Senate seat in January to run for Congress and join President Donald Trump.
But there’s a chance a Democrat could win the White House in November.
Central Oregon Daily asked if voters should be concerned he wouldn’t stick around if that happens, “Oh, I’m in it for the long haul. But it’d be a lot happier long haul if President Trump is in power, not Joe Biden.”
Dr. Knute Buehler, a Bend orthopedic surgeon, also served in the Legislature.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, then-Representative Buehler was an outspoken critic of “Donald Trump the candidate.”
Central Oregon Daily asked him, “what changed?”
“Trump’s been in office almost four years now, and the results speak for themselves,” he said. “The policies have been great: great for America, great for Oregon and certainly great for this congressional district.”
Jimmy Crumpacker, whose political ads are perhaps the most overtly in support of the President, did not return our repeated requests for a one-on-one interview. But the businessman took part in a recent virtual forum with City Club of Central Oregon and the League of Women Voters where he said, “I’m not a politician; I’ve never run for office. But, I’m coming at this with clear-eyed views, and really with the strong backing of President Trump.”
Crumpacker lists a Tumalo address as his primary residence. According to county records, he purchased the property for $10 in 2013.
But Crumpacker’s mailing address listed on Deschutes County tax documents is in southwest Portland. Questions have swirled around his residency since he announced his run.
Buehler says, “I don’t know who the guy is. He’s never lived, worked, played, volunteered, even hunted in Central Oregon, despite his claims. He’s really from Portland.”
It’s the kind of issue typically raised in a debate.
But this isn’t a typical election year. “What’s really missing,” says Bentz, “Is the opportunity to exchange remarks in those debates – that’s a big deal, and I’m really sad for the lack of that opportunity. Because, it would be nice to be able to call out certain candidates’ lack of experience.”
Instead, they campaign through political ads, yard signs, mailings and a few virtual forums, which makes it tough to stand out in such a crowded field of candidates. When asked what sets him apart from other candidates, Buehler says, “I am the only candidate in this race who has fought long and hard against Kate Brown and the liberal establishment in this state.”
Bentz replied, “The other folks don’t have the record I do, of constantly supporting the Second Amendment, over and over and over again.
Bentz and Buehler have drawn battle lines over abortion.
Bentz says he was honored by Oregon Right to Life at the end of the last Legislative session; although, Crumpacker is officially endorsed by the organization.
Buehler admits he is pro-choice, but insists he’s not “pro-abortion,” saying, “In the Legislature, remember, I voted against Governor Brown and with Oregon Right to Life in the massive expansion of access to abortion.”
As the candidates fight their way to the right, are they willing to reach across the aisle?
With 40 years of Republican representation in the Second District, would they even have to?
Bentz says, “I’m going to do the best for the district, always.
And, it’s going to be – of course, I’m going to stick with my Republican principles in doing it. But, I’m going to listen and listen, and listen. When someone comes in with a challenge or a problem, I’m not going to ask, ‘well, are a Democrat? Are you a Republican?’ I’m just going to say, ‘hey, yeah. This fire burns everybody’s house down.”
Buehler adds, “I am also willing to reach out to others, especially if they have good ideas, to see issues from all sides and come to a solution that all can find some sort of agreement. I certainly did that in the Oregon Legislature, and I’m more than willing to do that in Congress.”
GOP candidates will keep duking it out over the airwaves until 8 p.m. on May 19th.